The first year of university can be a challenging transition for students. There’s an increase in responsibilities, a brand new social environment, and often no safety net to soothe related anxieties.
This difficult adjustment period can lead to feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially without robust on-campus support. It’s a problem that’s increased over the pandemic and one that must be addressed at the beginning of the academic year.
Implementing dynamic strategies helps foster a sense of community and social belonging for first-year students. In doing so successfully, you’ll create an environment where students feel welcome and safe, therefore setting them up to flourish.
Here’s a list of strategies that will help provide the necessary social support for students in their first year:
1. Avoid Overwhelming New Students
Put yourself into the shoes of the average student at the start of the school year. Nowadays, there’s no need to bog down students with administrative paperwork and an abundance of reminder emails. Instead, there are apps for first years, directing them to personalized to-do checklists.
This type of tool guides students through the beginning of the semester processes without overwhelming them. A more streamlined, gentle approach helps ensure first-year students don’t miss valuable announcements and deadlines at the start of the year.
2. Help First-Year Students Find Groups of Students with Shared Interests
Talking to new people is incredibly challenging for many of us. It’s critical to offer opportunities that resonate with modern university students.
This generation is technologically savvy, and providing a campus portal, designated with multiple pages dedicated to a variety of interests such as “Music Fanatics” or “Book Enthusiasts” provides students the ability to find their own community, at their own pace.
Even the most introverted first-year students will feel safe and at ease, perusing through the different community groups.
Whether a student enjoys a specific genre of music or movie, sports, politics, video games, fashion, or anything else, they can connect with people who share their passions, and that’s how meaningful friendships begin.
3. Offer First-Years Students a Go-to Events Hub
After a senior year of high school spent virtually, first-year students are looking for ways to socialize and interact. With more universities opening their physical campuses, student organizations and departments have an array of activities planned this school year. It’s critical to make sure students know exactly where to find these offerings.
Provide a central space for new students to locate the latest events around campus. Share an automated events feed that aggregates all these activities together so that students can mark the ones they’re interested in, save the activities they want to attend, and share with their friends.
4. Foster an Environment Where First-Year Students Feel Free to Ask Questions
Many peer leadership information sessions involve small group settings. These meetings are valuable because it’s an excellent way to get new students interacting with one another.
Some students might feel content asking questions in this type of environment, but not everyone. Provide a peer-to-peer messaging system that equips students with the ability to ask their questions through one-on-one direct messaging. Rather than shying away and not inquiring about their questions at all, they can reach out privately.
5. Get the Word Out and Promote Your Campus Events
Does an on-campus event really happen when nobody’s there to see it? While the digital tools discussed above will make headway in getting the word out about campus events, they can’t do all the heavy lifting.
When these events don’t attract students, it’s a lost opportunity to cultivate an on-campus community and connect people with the same interests.
To ensure success, you’ll need to embrace your inner marketing genius, putting in the research to find what makes a successful campaign.
Here’s a potential marketing technique you can use: pinpoint campus influencers who can get the word out about events that spark the sense of belonging students all need.
6. Stay in Touch With Students and Hear What They Have to Say
Encourage transparent, consistent communication with first-year students. Chat channels provide a digital space where students can convene and build a community.
In an online forum ask students what they would like to see activity-wise, or what resources are most important to them. Enabling them to share their thoughts and provide their two cents will help bolster your campus connections.
7. Encourage Easy Feedback with Polls
First-year life can be hectic between building a social life and establishing a steady academic footing. As such, making time to give detailed feedback might not be a top priority for everyone.
With polls, get your finger on the pulse of what your first-year students are looking for with a click of a button. Get an understanding of what most of your students are looking for and what they are interested in this new school year.
8. Prioritize Student Mental Health
There is absolutely no way to unlock the power of belonging for first-year students without focusing on their mental health.
As we touched on earlier, first-year students spent their final year of high school via remote learning and physically away from their campus, socially distanced from friends.
As research shows, social isolation has a causal relationship with declining mental health. Along with the challenges new first-year students typically face, the pandemic has had a major additional impact on students’ well-being.
Create directory guides where students can discover on-campus resources such as counselors, peer mentors, and other departments that they can refer to throughout the school year. Host these guides in a go-to digital space and give them constant access they can utilize and share with fellow students.